Seven shootings have occurred at Philadelphia recreation centers since January, leaving four dead and community members searching for answers.
“It’s senseless,” said Victor Richard. “It’s total disrespect for human life.” Richard is the commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, and like everyone else, he is outraged that crime has penetrated the city’s safest havens. The four dead victims of these shootings are predictably young; three were only teenagers.
One of the surviving victims is 18-month-old Mehkee Gatewood, who suffered two gunshot wounds while at E.R. Tustin Playground in West Philadelphia in late September.
Something needs to be done.
Once places for children to thrive and socialize, playgrounds have become just another dangerous part of a city overrun with murder. Criminals have abandoned the streets and taken their guns to the playgrounds, most likely seeking out fights with opposing gangs and rival neighborhoods. If rec centers don’t get more security soon, there will be more young and innocent victims. Richard describes the problem as a “social issue,” not an issue specific to rec centers.
Playgrounds are normally safe, and they are usually not conducive to gun violence, he said. The irregularity of the shootings makes it all the more difficult to prevent violence on playgrounds.
“No one expects them to be dangerous,” Richard said. Difficult as this may be, the city’s Department of Recreation is taking steps to protect city playgrounds. “We are currently seeking funding to put surveillance cameras in large rec centers,” Richard said. These cameras will not only help identify suspects, but may also deter crime.
In addition to surveillance, the department works alongside the Philadelphia Police Department to teach staff members to look for potentially dangerous behavior. There are also uniformed security officers to patrol special events and popular athletic games. The department pays special attention to the summer months, when teenagers often head to playgrounds with nothing else to do.
This strategy has been only slightly effective. Two of the seven shootings took place over the summer. Both were fatal. The fourth murder victim, 27-year-old Freeman Lambeck, was shot outside of the Olney Recreation Center in June. Increasing playground security at specific times is equivalent to putting a Band-aid over the victims’ wounds. There needs to be more and better security at rec centers in order to restore safety to at lease once aspect of the city.
Shannon McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.